Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Professor Mthuli Ncube

By Nobleman Runyanga  

Zimbabweans of various walks of life reacted in a mixed manner to the 2019 National Budget which was announced by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Professor Mthuli Ncube last week.

Commenting in his Twitter handle on the same day, President Emmerson Mnangagwa stressed the rationale and thrust of the budget: “The core message – austerity for prosperity – is a central component of our strategy to restructure, reform and rebuild, and I am confident that in years to come, this will be seen as pivotal moment in Zimbabwe’s economic recovery.”

While the budget had a number of positives such as the minister’s decision not to charge excise duty on sanitary wear and the allocation of large votes to social ministries such as health and education, most Zimbabwe chose to dwell on areas in which they did not agree with the minister such as defence. This brings to the fore how political polarisation which has been entrenched in our society since 2000 has negatively affected how people perceive and assess situations and national issues such as the budget.

Spending cuts

In an unprecedented departure from the previous dispensation’s tradition, Professor Ncube announced a salary cut for the President, Vice Presidents, Cabinet ministers and parastatal bosses. This demonstrated government’s commitment to take the bitter but necessary pill to make economic recovery a reality. Over the years parastatals have earned notoriety for gobbling treasury funds whilst chalking up losses year after year. Parastatal bosses have been known for presiding over huge salary arrears for their charges using the prevailing economic challenges to explain away this anomalous situation while they claimed every perquisite due to them. If Zimbabwe is to prosper again, such people need to turn over a new leaf, support government’s thrust for austerity now for prosperity in the future.

The budget can only begin to facilitate the economic recovery programme by infusing traction in it if everyone understands that austerity is not just for government but every Zimbabwean. It is for the factory worker, office clerk, informal trader and the rural dweller. The budget is a call for Zimbabweans to move from the past habits of overspending one’s resources and unfairly blaming Zanu PF and government for the resultant consequences. It is a clarion call to all and sundry to craft personal and family strategies to live within their means until the economy turns round the corner. Savings made at individual, family or company level add to national savings creating resources which can then be used to source necessities such as medical drugs.

The budget is also for the legislator who should lead the pack in explaining its contents and spirit to his or her constituency instead of pressing government to buy him or her expensive motor vehicles when the constituency s/he purports to represent has no basic drugs such as paracetamol, boreholes and schools.

Traffic fines

In a show of seriousness about turning the economy around and inculcating a culture of responsible behaviour, Professor Ncube proposed a 2 200 percent hike in traffic fines. Some people described the move as scrapping the barrel for revenue yet they are the ones who, like everyone else, are incensed by commuter minibus drivers’ annoying and dangerous driving habits. The move is not just going to benefit treasury only but everyone as the move is set to encourage responsible driving and arrest dangerous driving which has cost the country a lot of lives needlessly.

Critics of the new fines cannot have their cake and eat too. They cannot wish for safe roads and pay fines which are not deterrent to errant drivers. They cannot wish for drivers who stick to road rules to save lives on national highways but expect to pay token fines. The budget requires everyone’s commitment and support at individual level. It means making sacrifices and requisite behaviour changes. It also means moving away from wilfully disobeying traffic regulations by shooting through amber or red traffic lights to avoid paying the new fines instead of pointing fingers at the minister. Where one falls foul of the traffic regulations inadvertently, the new budget and culture demands of individuals to guard themselves against resorting to paying bribes to traffic police officers in a bid to avoid the new fines.

Customs duty on imported motor vehicles

The proposed payment of customs duty on imported motor vehicles and other goods in United States dollars is one area which has received the most criticism. President Mnangagwa explained the move by highlighting that the imported vehicles need fuel which is paid for in foreign currency which is scarce. Motor vehicles have been a major conduit for the flight of scarce foreign currency to other countries such as Japan and the United Kingdom. Yes, these are funds in private hands which the individuals concerned have complete control over but foreign currency savings by individuals cumulatively add to the country’s foreign currency chest. Such individuals cannot continue to unthinkingly transfer foreign currency to other countries and blame government for the resultant shortages born of foreign currency challenges.

Need for a mindset shift

The reaction of most people quoted by the print media in its various stories on the budget clearly indicates that most of those canvassed by the papers allowed their political inclinations to sway their views to the extent of only dwelling on what they perceived to be the negatives. Despite President Mnangagwa’s call for unity and oneness as Zimbabweans, most of the people spoken to by the media remained stuck in their retrogressive mantra that “nothing to do with Zanu PF is good.”

As long as people remain firmly stuck in the political prejudices and stereotypes of the past, they risk remaining tethered in the past to the detriment of their own lives and society in general. Zimbabwe is a constitutional democracy and President Mnangagwa is in power as a result of the democratic process of a national election which is provided for in the country’s constitution. This means that even the opposition should support the budget and stop merely opposing for the sake of it or using it to seek revenge for their electoral loss. Zimbabwe is about every Zimbabwean irrespective of their affiliation, colour or creed. Every Zimbabwean is duty-bound to patriotically contribute to its success by putting in ideas, solutions, innovations and religiously paying one’s taxes and other statutory dues instead of expecting cosy life without contributing to and sacrificing for it.

On 23 November 2018,the Daily News cartoonist, Tony Namate used a cartoon to mock the budget as a “Our austerity, their prosperity” one to give the impression that government was expecting the people to undergo a life of austerity for the benefit of senior government officials, which is not correct as that is now in the past following the advent of President Mnangagwa’s administration, whose thrust is inclusiveness and better life for all. The budget can only achieve its objective of facilitating economic turnaround if people, who include cartoonist and journalists, support it by educating the public about it instead of entrenching the past “we and them” chasm which prevailed between government and the people.  It can only succeed if all people, including those in the opposition camp prioritise improving the people’s lives through economic recovery instead of preaching the politics of retributive sabotage.

The budget requires all Zimbabweans to do their own part in, however, small ways to improve their own livelihoods through foregoing some luxuries and exerting more effort in their daily endeavours. It means using one’s skills and talents to improve one’s lives and those of one’s community by taking advantages of government programmes and projects. It means disabusing oneself of the wrong but prevalent mindset that the responsibility for moving our economy forward lies solely with government and getting used to the reality that it is in the hands of every Zimbabwean.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.